Concerns over cleaning apartment dryer vents

Chereen Normandin has heard the reports of big apartment building fires hitting Metro Vancouver recently...

Chereen Normandin has heard the reports of big apartment building fires hitting Metro Vancouver recently.

She doesn’t want the same thing to happen to her building in downtown Maple Ridge.

Normandin has lived in her two-bedroom apartment on Royal Crescent, just behind Lougheed Highway in the downtown, for seven years and says, during that time, the vents at the back of her dryer have never been cleaned.

Dryer lint or dust can cause fires if in high enough concentrations or if clogged dryers heat up.

Normandin said she’s written to the owner of the building, Croft Properties, asking that dryer vents be cleaned out and has had no response.

“It’s a safety thing. It’s a concern and it’s never been done.”

“You send them a letter, you get no response. There’s no response, you never get any response.”

Normandin said she’s talked to other tenants who’ve lived there longer and they say dryer vents have never been cleaned from the individual apartments.

“I’m afraid of fire,” she says.

But building manager Anna Yu said that tenants who want work done on their suites only need to fill out a form requesting maintenance and that Normandin hasn’t done that.

The dryers inside the apartments are all owned by the tenants, she pointed out. She’s managed the building for six years and said the building vents haven’t been cleaned while she’s been there. But if Normandin is worried, she should contact Yu, who in turn will relay that to the building owner.

“I will do what I can, if she can do what she can do.”

Normandin agreed that she owns the dryer.

“It’s my dryer, but it’s the building’s vent.”

Normandin said she’ll fill out a form asking for the vent to be cleaned out.

Maple Ridge assistant fire chief Mark Smitton said apartment buildings are inspected annually by the fire department, but those inspections don’t include individual apartments or the dryers inside.

“When we do inspections, we don’t inspect the suites.”

Instead, the fire department will only inspect the common areas of a building, including common-use laundry rooms. If they see that the dryers need cleaning, they’ll order that action.

“Usually, the fire inspector will only deal with common area dryers and not individual units, unless we see a pattern in the building.”

If the build-up becomes a fire hazard, then the fire inspector can order a cleaning.

If firefighters see that dryer lint built up on the outside vents, they’ll tell the building owner to clean them.

Often, strata-owned buildings will have a regular maintenance program for cleaning dryers and vents, he added. He recommends the vents and areas around the motor be cleaned annually.

Smitton said the manufacturers of the dryers recommend regular cleaning of the back discharge areas of dryers.

Regular cleaning out of the lint trap at the front of the dryer can help prevent lint clogging up at the back. The vent pipe itself must be made of tin, rather than plastic. According to the B.C. Fire Code, lint traps must be cleaned after every use.

Dryer lint isn’t to be taken lightly.

“The dryer vent is highly combustible. It’s [lint[ no different than wood dust,” Smitton said.

Smitton explained that if you put a flame to a wooden two-by-four, it eventually will burn.

But if you shave kindling from that two-by-four, it will burn more quickly. And if that two-by-four is cut up, so that only sawdust remains, it becomes more flammable.

“It lights really fast. If it lights fast, it’s an explosion.”

The same thing can happen with flour dust or dryer lint because they’re both flammable ingredients.

According to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, there are about 2,900 dryer fires in the U.S. every year.